Readers letters, May 2009

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Winning contributions

Sir,

Harold Ross, founding editor of The New Yorker, required two things of his contributors: their pieces must be interesting and well written. Most magazines and virtually all automotive ones fall short on the second of the two. Motor Sport (with few exceptions) does not.

I always read cover to cover, though not sequentially. First I look to Nigel Roebuck for topics of interest. He has my vote for being one of the top half-dozen automotive journalists during my 55 years of awareness. Next I skip to the rear to see what that treasure Bill Boddy has to recount. From there I settle in to the best of the best – Simon Taylor’s Lunch with… Finally, I read and enjoy just about everything else, even Paul Fearnley’s convoluted prose and Andrew Frankel’s sometimes edgy op-eds.

While I find most interest in the history side, I am delighted with the way that US-related topics have been presented. NASCAR? You have made interesting a subject which has occupied none of my time in the past.

Russell E Baer Jr, Monkton, Maryland, USA

Wisell’s ‘fantasy’ pitstop

Sir,

In your April 2009 interview with Reine Wisell, the Swedish driver mentioned something that “has never been widely reported or discussed” – that Lotus deliberately gave him a meaningless pitstop to keep him behind Emerson Fittipaldi at the 1972 US Grand Prix.

The reason why it has never been widely reported or discussed is that it never happened.

Contrary to Wisell’s claims, he was not faster than Fittipaldi that weekend; Emerson qualified 1.1 seconds clear of him, a decent enough result for Wisell in a new(ish) car to him and after struggling in the BRM, and Wisell was faster in the soaking second practice, albeit nobody seemed to be taking it seriously. But Wisell’s tale of the race is pure fantasy. Emerson was in the top four until his experimental soft Firestones punctured, then ran stone last for a dozen laps before retiring. Wisell ran throughout the race in the midfield to an unspectacular 10th, lapped at a third of the race distance, without a pitstop to his name. No wonder Eddie Dennis could not remember such an occurrence… I would be intrigued if Wisell had mistaken it for something that happened on another weekend; I cannot think where it would be, though.

While I am in pedantic mode, Piercarlo Ghinzani’s pole at the 1983 Monza 1000Kms did not occur before his Formula 1 debut; he had started his first GP at Zolder in 1981, where he finished 13th for Osella on the tragic weekend when mechanic Giovanni Amadeo was killed.

Robin Horton, Sutton Coldfield

Misrepresentation

Sir,

I feel it may be time to report Motor Sport to the Office of Fair Trading. It states quite clearly on the front cover that it is a magazine. It’s not; it’s a work of art!

When it drops through the door I am torn between which bits to read first. Will it be Nigel Roebuck, whom I hated when he first took over from Pete Lyons at Autosport but who over time won me over to the extent that no one does a Grand Prix report better, or Simon Taylor, whom I was privileged to meet in a Thai restaurant in Bromyard some months back. I couldn’t help but overhear the odd snippet of the talk at his table, motor sport gossip, and more interesting than the topic at mine – weddings.

Lunch with Paddy Hopkirk (March issue) was a wonderful piece. What a great character, but I fear his memory of where people went for their holidays in the ’60s may be a bit false. Scunthorpe for holidays? Perhaps the Irish are more than a little eccentric. Scunny is my home town and I don’t remember it being a hotbed of tourism.

One last point. Can Mr Taylor please advise which diet plan he’s on? All those lunches must surely play havoc with his waistline!

Steve Gray, Suckley, Worcester

The late Teddy Mayer

Sir,

I first met Teddy in 1969 when I briefly worked for the McLaren team; thereafter I knew him as a competitor, then as a colleague when he became a co-director of Penske Cars in 1987. We enjoyed this partnership until 2003 during which time we became firm friends, and during my 45 years in the sport he, together with Roger Penske, became my greatest influence.

Teddy was a forgotten man within the sport, and none of the tributes written about his life do justice to the enormous influence he had. Teddy dedicated his life to McLaren after the death of his brother Timmy. Using his personal resources, he supported McLaren up to and beyond Bruce’s death in 1970. This was a time when McLaren employed fewer people than today’s F1 teams have canteen staff, and yet competed globally in F1, Can-Am, USAC (Indianapolis) and F5000.

It took a long time to recover from the loss of McLaren when he sold it in ’82, and subsequent involvement with Beatrice, Brabham and his own Indycar team never replaced it. It is no exaggeration to say that without Teddy, and Tyler Alexander, there would be no McLaren today. Teddy was also a core part of FOCA, laying the foundation of F1 as we know it.

A week after Teddy’s death, Ron Dennis and Martin Whitmarsh held a commemoration of his life at the McLaren Technology Centre.

It was a moving event attended by his son Timmy, daughter Annie and their families, Bernie Ecclestone, Sir Frank Williams, Sir Jackie Stewart, John Watson, Jody Scheckter, John Hogan, Pat McLaren, and others who’d worked with him or owed him a debt of gratitude.

Much has been written about Teddy’s ‘lack of sympathy’ for drivers. His attitude towards them was simple: they had to perform to the maximum and as soon as that ability deteriorated, for whatever reason, he changed them. To the outside world this appeared harsh, but history will show that in many instances he was right.

Teddy was not perfect by any means, a fact he would be first to endorse. He could be difficult, contrary, pedantic and often insufferably right, but he was at the same time a wise and cultured man. Stories about his behaviour have become folklore, but though sometimes hurt by his critics, he remained dignified and courteous. He never displayed his wealth, using much of it to benefit many people in a discreet manner.

The sadness is that his life and achievements were never properly celebrated. There is no biography, and he received no awards, nor a tribute at any historic event where so many of his iconic cars and drivers are celebrated today.

Teddy came from an era when celebrity was less intense than today, when achievement was a matter of fact. One day, perhaps, there will be a retrospective reflection of Teddy’s career and achievements that will do full justice to a great man. All at Penske will miss him, as will so many elsewhere, while I have lost a dear friend.

Nick Goozée, Maiden Newton, Dorset

Funding issues

Sir,

It was interesting to read in the Eddie Jordan interview (April issue) of his F3 budget in 1983; so little of such a sensitive topic gets divulged contemporaneously with events! I often wonder why no one (Perry McCarthy excepted) ever makes reference to the efforts of Steve Sydenham’s ‘Racing for Britain’ organisation, which provided funds to selected British drivers and their teams in the 1980s, much of it by public subscription. If I remember, and Eddie can correct me if I’m wrong, it was such money that made it possible for his team and Martin Brundle to complete their 1983 campaign.

Finally, re the Teddy Mayer obituary, Peter Revson was killed in the spring of ’74, not ’73. In those days of open F1 paddocks I met him at the Brands Hatch Race of Champions. Five days later he was gone. Gone but still not forgotten.

Andrew Turton, Bisley, Surrey

Nuns on the run

Sir,

Could the two nuns in the Citroën 2CV (Lunch with Paddy Hopkirk) have been a rival team in disguise?

Chris Wilson, London

Portuguese promise

Sir,

Doug Nye’s article “A lesson in left foot braking” (December) brought back childhood memories, because I was six years old when I watched Stirling Moss win that race at Monsanto. However, he has it wrong when he writes that the local star was José Nogueira Pinto. He was in fact Joaquim Filipe Nogueira, the most promising Portuguese driver of the ’50s. My father, who knew him well, always assured me that he was one of the biggest natural talents he had ever seen. Unfortunately his career was cut short by a big accident at Boavista in 1956 when he overturned his 750 Monza trying to stay ahead of De Portago’s works Ferrari.

He returned in the ’60s racing all sorts of cars including F3, but while he had some success his best period was behind him. JFN later became a TV personality due to his programme Sangue na Estrada (Blood on the Road) where he was a constant critic of the government’s traffic policy. That said, I was pleased to know his driving style had caught the attention of Stirling and Jenks.

Rodrigo de Vilhena, Turcifal, Portugal

More than a mechanic

Sir,

In your March issue there was a You Were There picture by Peter Moxey of Chris Amon’s Ferrari, captioned ‘mechanic in third Ferrari’. Well, it’s a very special mechanic – it’s Giulio Borsari. Borsari, born in 1925, was and still is a true legend. While working for Maserati, he was the mechanic on Fangio’s car. Then he joined the famous Centro-Sud team, and in 1962 he entered Ferrari. He stayed there until retirement, looking after, among others, Regazzoni’s car. Borsari even wrote a book about his memories with Cesare de Agostini: Ferrari in tuta (1980). After his retirement, he was co-founder of the ‘Club Meccanici Anziani Formula Uno’ and he was a severe scrutineer in the Shell Historic Challenge.

Franky Hungenaert, Maaseik, Belgium

A walk in the park

Sir,

Over the last few years I have enjoyed the Track Test articles in Motor Sport exploring historic racing venues and what remains today.

I’ve always liked exploring old venues and over the years I’ve been to Reims, Rouen, Montjuich, Clermont Ferrand, Miramas, Sitges and Pebble Beach, not to mention the operational tracks!

My best memory goes back to 1970 when I set out with my OS map to ‘discover’ Donington Park, where my father had seen Mercedes and Auto Unions before the war. It wasn’t difficult to find the overgrown and neglected estate, and I wandered in via the farmyard at Coppice Corner (where the museum is now) to find the remains of the track passing through the farmyard and off into a long straight through a wooded area. To my pleasure the track was largely still in existence and easy to follow on foot, albeit rather overgrown and surprisingly narrow, and with the odd cattle grid across it! After climbing a fence I was delighted to find the Melbourne Hairpin and the famous jump on the return to the left-hander at what was Red Gate. Or at least where Red Gate used to be, because a Rolls Royce factory building obscured it then. I still recall standing at the top of the Craner Curves (then wooded) and it taking my breath away to imagine the Silver Arrows sliding down there.

I was able to complete an entire lap, including passing under the single-file Starkey’s Bridge, before finding myself back in the Coppice farmyard. As I had seen not a soul all afternoon I felt emboldened to take my old Mini van and drive as much of the lap as possible, imagining the likes of Nuvolari, Rosemeyer and Lang in action as I jolted my way down the Craner Curves at as much as 30mph.

I came home so enthused that I immediately sent a letter to Autosport suggesting that it should be redeveloped for racing. I’ve no idea if Tom Wheatcroft read that letter, or indeed if his plans were already started, but I was very happy to be in the paddock seven years later with a car to participate in the first ever post-war meeting.

Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to drive a good many laps of Donington and can rate it as one of my favourites. I did see qualifying for the only F1 race there in ’93 (sadly not the famously wet race) but will I be there to watch a British GP next year? Only time will tell…

Peter Richings, Coventry

TRATS your engines

Sir,

It took me a moment to work out the photo from Shelsley Walsh on p105 of the February issue, but then I realised the negative has been reversed. The START banner has always read from the competitors’, and indeed the paddock’s, point of view, thus leaving the view I have if commentating from Vox Villa as TRATS.

Toby Moody, Earl’s Common, Worcestershire

Pedro’s finest moment

Sir,

Having read John Horsman’s wonderful book, I agree with Mark Finburgh (Letters, April): while Pedro Rodríguez’s 1970 Brands Hatch race was a matter of furious driving, the blindingly fast Zeltweg drive was performed in a rather cool manner. I would dearly like to read a good account of the life of Rodríguez. I was such a fan I got myself a deerstalker cap in the ’70s.

Valentin Kraemer, Munich, Germany
[A new book on the Rodríguez brothers is reviewed on page 123 – Ed]

Is Ron just avoiding EJ?

Sir,

It had to be Motor Sport to reveal the real reason why Ron Dennis handed over the reins to Martin Whitmarsh. Eddie Jordan’s on the BBC team chasing interviews from the ‘back’ room!

Keep up the good work. Your magazine is always the most sought after in our bar, although I have to translate most of the articles.

Nick Harman, Chardonnay, France

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